Category Archives: Chalcis

Saturday 17 June

Next day (17 June) we rode along the shore and through the wide harvest fields of Oripò, in great heat, which Lear in his sketch of the day has noted — “Oh, how hot!” — “A landscape of pale ochre.” “Mariana in the South” is another of his side-notes, perhaps suggested by the “brooding heat” — “And flaming downward over all/ From heat to heat the day decreased,”[22] or by some statuesque figures of peasant women at work in the fields, whom he has drawn and described in the sketch of today, in their “long, white, woollen vests, fringed with scarlet worsted embroidery,” “chocolate coloured belts” — “three long ropes of hair, with red silk tassels and ends” in the foreground of the harvest field. On the opposite shore were the long line of the white walls of Chalcis, bordering the strait, under “hills in palest lilac,” and the snow-topped cone of Dirphe over-topping all.

Lear’s sketches of Chalcis, the yellow walls and towers rising up from the water on the opposite shore, the Venetian castle and drawbridge at the crossing of the narrow strait, the entrance into the island fort and town of Chalcis, were taken from the shore of Aulis that evening. Later we had a long ride round the shore of the upper bay, and entered by the stone bridge to the Kastro in mid-stream, and thence across the wooden drawbridge into the Castle, under the carved Lion of St Mark, sprawling on its Tower frontage, and into the town.

Two days were spent in Chalcis, “most picturesque and interesting.” All the records of Venetian history have since been swept away by the modern Greeks since 1848.

If the Castle and battlements no longer stand as they then did, another blot is left upon the character of the modern Greek, by the destruction of historical memorials which once marked Chalcis as the chief seat of the Venetian Republic in Greece. The memory of the great siege in 1466, by which it resisted so long Mahmoud the Conqueror, and the merciless massacre with which the Conqueror wreaked his vengeance on the Christian defenders, might have interested the Greeks in keeping up its walls and battlements, even if they were crumbling away past repair.

Lear’s sketches are here, as at Athens and other places, valuable for their preservation of historic scenes and records of sixty years ago, and of what are now lost to sight and memory on the spot. He was sketching here through morning and evening, the town and neighbourhood still retaining some signs of the Turkish occupation, a mosque or two and minarets in ruins, cypresses and fountains, dilapidated wooden houses with overhanging galleries and latticed windows, among the new Greek houses, lying on the slope of the lower hills and on the lower piazzas, and bounded on the plain by the river-like strait above and “the refluent tides”[23] below, North and South of the narrows and the bridge of the Castle.

So he brought in a harvest of drawings, in the evening of the second day, of scenes most picturesque, but in his notes on one {sketch 48} he describes the squalid foreground in which he was working among narrow streets and waste ground, the native crowd and “thistles, rags, shoes, fleas, tobacco leaves, [wood], puppies, straw,” while tender, soft evening lights were settling down on hills and buildings and water.

Edward Lear, Vathy near Chalkis, 17 June 1848
VIS4483, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield

Dressed by sunrise. C. bathed, my bad arm prevents me. It is of little more use now than just after the fall, though it gives me less pain, unless moved suddenly. An encampment of Gypsies amused us till starting; turbaned creatures and trowsered women, rolling about with sieves, naked children, pipes and pipkins. Off by 5 a.m. Flat ground, by the seaside. Site of the Battle of Delium. Hope Socrates did not find so many thistles to walk through![24] After this followed undulating hills by the seaside — clear and blue sea. Sometimes we walked our horses in it, sometimes up or down red, sandy roads (like drives in home-parks), between beautiful round, green sofas of Lentisk and tufts of airy, transparent Sea-pine. The opposite coast pure and cloudless — altogether a very lovely tract of scenery, and with the delightfulest of breezes, though the sun was very hot. One should make a landscape of these scenes all pale yellow, pale lilac and pale blue, and then force the near figures in colour ad lib. C. rode on and I sketched {sketch 43}, walking afterwards to Vathi, where I found Janni, who said his men had disobeyed him. Sate under the tent. C. has gone to bathe. The villages hereabout are very low-roofed, low-walled, rattly-tiled, shaky, irregular, plastery, sticky, furzy, scattery places, all ochre and pale brown, tiles pale ochre-red. The ground around the villages is pale gray and ochre.

My arm is perhaps a little stronger, but it had a fresh wrench to-day, which brought on very great pain. Even if no serious damage turns out to have been caused, it is plain I shall be for a long time disabled. When Church came back, we dined; very enjoyable quiet, not to speak of soup, fish, curried fowl, boiled fowl, and a surprising composition of plum pudding and apricots; coffee and a pipe. Exquisite air — but that one is too old, one might suppose Lotos-eating days were returned!

We did not move till past 3 p.m. It was very hot. Then we came to two quiet bays, Euboea always nearer and nearer, we two riding up and down the hills of projecting promontories, to avoid the corners, and at 5 we got opposite Chalcis — mosques and minarets, bridge and fortifications, and the high mountain Dirphe, with snow-head — very fine. Here we stopped to draw,[25] {sketch 44} and then on by continued unexpected bays. At sunset to the Castle Hill, and the celebrated bridge across the narrow stream, into the Town of Many Streets — most picturesque. Found tea set out in not bad little room. Tea and penning out.[26]


[22] Tennyson, “Mariana in the South”, ll. 77-8.

[23] A reference to the phenomenon of the reversal of flow in the Euripus Strait, and also a common collocation in poetry, e.g. in the description of Charybdis in Pope’s Odyssey, Bk 12: When in her gulfs the rushing sea subsides,/ She drains the ocean with the refluent tides”.

[24] Socrates served in the Athenian army which was defeated by the Boeotians at the Battle of Delium in 424 BC.

[25] It is not clear how often Church also sketched during this trip (some drawings survive from other journeys). “We stopped to draw” may just mean that the party halted so Lear could draw.

[26] Lear sketch very quickly en route; later he would “pen out”, inking over his pencil outlines. Colour wash would be applied last.

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Sunday 18 June

CHALKIS

Bathed with C. M. C . at 4 a.m., drew bridge on both sides, {sketches 45 and 46} explored town — wonderfully picturesque balconied houses and Turkish queer places, not to speak of mosques cum minarets. {sketch 48} The dresses of these people are wonderful! 8 a.m. breakfast — red mullet, honey, curds (or Yaourt). Resting, penning out, sleeping a lot, till 1 p.m., and dinner 2. At 3.30 – 4 to Quay with Janni, and in a boat cross the bay. {unnumbered sketch ii?} Sketching, Church to Greek friend’s house. Boys jumping off the bridge top into the Euripus water. Sketched and returned. Most beautiful sunset. Walked and sketched by upper part of city with C.M.C.; afterwards to a Café Garden. The walk and mien of these people!!! Tea.

Edward Lear, Chalcis and the Mountains of Euboea from the Sea, [18] June 1848
VIS 4494, reproduced by kind permission of Museums Sheffield
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Monday 19 June

CHALKIS

Rose at 3.30 a.m. and bathed with C.M.C. before sunrise, returning to breakfast. Wandered about alone from 6 to 11, drawing figures, etc. A fair, or bazaar, held just outside the walls of the fortified town — wondrous groups of people!! Short tunics, lined with wool, bordered with red or black, worked ditto on the women: families of blacks (or Negroes?);[27] altogether a scene of immense variety. Found a Greek friend of C. M. C. at the Inn, spoke only Greek. Their political bothering is potius aper — they talk of Escort being wanted North of Chalcis!

While Lear was sketching through Chalcis, my business meanwhile was to learn something of the state of the country in which our route was now to lie. Alarming letters had followed us from Athens: “The Government have received information that the insurgents[28] have reappeared in force upon the frontier and in Northern Greece. Take good advice at Chalcis when you are about to leave it for Thebes . . . .” As we had letters to some of the chief men of the place, the families of Boudouris and Ducas,[29] names of medieval history and of modern interest, there was no difficulty in obtaining advice, and the result was that we changed our route and, instead of going to Thebes and through the heart of the country to Delphi, we decided on making a week’s tour in Euboea, which was free from “insurgents,” was untrodden ground to travellers for the most part, and abounding, by all accounts, in beautiful mountain and woodland scenery, and we had letters to two English proprietors who had bought land in the island, since the war.

Lear had a wish to draw the sites of the two classic scenes which we had seen from a distance from the Attic side: Eretria, the old rival of Chalcis, the unhappy town on which the vengeance of the Persians had fallen before Marathon, and Cumi at the back of the island, the reputed founder of colonies bearing the same name on the Campanian shore of Italy and in Asia Minor.[30] From there we projected a week’s tour, crossing the lower slopes of Mount Dirphe to the wooded district of Achmet Aga, in the centre of the island, the Noel property, and to Castaniotissa at the North end, where our letters also lay to Mr Leeves, an English proprietor, and possibly to cross from thence to the parts opposite Lamia and Thermopylae and the frontier on the North.[31]

Our first day’s route from Chalcis was South, by Eretria to Aliveri, along the shore, under the mountain, and looking on the opposite Attic shore which we had left, through olive woods of Vassiliko, to Eretria at sunset — the sun in golden light upon houses, Acropolis, and mountain above, and upon sea and shore, where once was harbour, and the ships, which the Persians carried off. At Aliveri we entered the great plain to Cumi on the Eastern coast, and left the shores of the Euripus, with regret for loss of the daily sea baths we had enjoyed on either shore morning and mid-day. The sketch at Aliveri is marked by a vignette in the corner, which adds a humorous interest – a string of mules, laden with fir poles slung St Andrew’s cross wise, had shied at the white umbrella of the artist and much disturbed him in his sketch {sketch 53}. He has described the scene in which easel, umbrella and artist are toppled over with a legend of exclamation — “Ah! Croce di San Andrea!!

The next series of sketches, not less than twenty-five in number, during the next week, represent a great variety of Euboean scenery, mountain, and wood with distant views, and glen, and plain, comparatively unknown, and beautiful. Lear revelled in the scenes — “far finer than he had ever seen in the way of forest”, “finer than three times multiplied Dovedale and Derbyshire” — forest scenery, unusual in any other part of Greece, for Euboea had escaped the ravages of the Turks and Greeks in the late war, for the most part.

They illustrate the topography of the island, divided nearly in half by the great plain between the Northern and Southern blocks of mountain, Kandili and Dirphe in the North and centre, and the Karysto range on the South. This great plain is the waist of the long body of the island and stretching from Aliveri on the Western channel to Cumi on the Eastern Sea, and was the Lelantean plain, the most fertile granary of the island, which had in Venetian times a special officer to look after its irrigation and regulate the export of its harvests: “whose famous vineyards were in ancient days an object of unceasing strife between the rival cities of Chalcis and Eretria”.

Monday 19 June [continued]

We dined at noon (soup, fish, curry, roast fowl and pudding). After coffee and pipe, slept till 2, when old Janni packed up and packed us off in a hurry. Baggage badly loaded, and fell off close to the town. Thence we went by a beastly paved road, coasting the low shallow straits. Many springs of clear water running from below the harsh, bare, rocky hill on our left. (We passed an Aqueduct half a mile from Chalcis.) A long tract of very pretty ground, full of fine olives, succeeded, with Mt Dirphe always in view. Drew — the ground overspread with Acanthus, Clematis, etc. From 4 to 6 p.m. tiresome undulations of uninteresting low slopes near the sea — now and then a peep of the Oripo shore opposite. 6.30. a world of Lentisk, with garden paths. Just before sunset we got to the plain of Eretria, in time to secure the shadows of the mountain and Acropolis Hill — very fine and wild, and might make a good picture, with its deep-rooted Lentisk foreground, its gray rocky-path sides, its red road winding away, and its intense lilac distant hills. Janni went on before. While C. and I stayed to sketch, mules laden with long cross beams of wood nearly destroyed me, upsetting artist, sketching stool and all. {sketch 53} Little is left of the ancient Eretria, and the modern village is a queer dishevelled place of small square houses — like boxes or dominoes — many roofless and falling. We found things partly ready in one of these empty stalls — a strange land is this Greece! And after half an hour they gave us as good a tea as one could have in Grosvenor or Belgrave Square.


[27] There was a substantial Black population in Greece at this period, brought into the Ottoman Empire as slaves, often originally from the Sudan.

[28] Although the new Greek Constitution of 1844 had established a parliament and limited the powers of the King, sporadic uprisings continued, encouraged by the European revolutions of 1848. The area near Lamia was particularly unsettled.

[29] Vassilios Boudouris was a prominent Greek politician from Euboea, where his family owned magnesite and chromium mines. Descendants of the Doucas family, originally Byzantine nobility, still lived in Euboea.

[30] Ancient Cumi (modern Kymi) founded Cumae in Southern Italy and Cyme in Asia Minor.

[31] Before 1881 the Greek-Turkish border was only a short distance north of Lamia.

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Thursday 22 June

Off by 5 a.m. Oleanders, plane trees, stream, lanes — all very pleasant. Pines every[where?] — very beautiful scenery. Yet that of yesterday afternoon I have hardly ever seen equalled, so clearly and finely drawn were all the lovely sunset distances. Never saw I one more exquisitely beautiful! Its pale, corn-green space dotted innumerably with long lines of dark Lentisk, and bounded by purple wooded hills, lilac Dirphe over all. {sketch 66}

Edward Lear, Between Khalkis and Castella, 22 June 1848
TypDr 805.L513.48g , reproduced by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard

Janni overtook us an hour from Castella, bringing our washed clothes from Chalcis, with rumours of rows at Zeituni [Lamia] and Thermopylae. C. went to the sea to bathe; I rode on, and had just time to make a sketch before sunset. {sketch 68} The wholly classic tone of all one sees is amazing! Shepherds, labourers, crooks, tunics, etc. {sketches 67, 68}. After a wash, I enjoyed tea. A long day, but interesting. Stork,[32] on top of Cypress.

Edward Lear, Castella, 22 June 1848
Private Collection

[32] This was probably the first time Lear had seen a stork in the wild or (in the entry for 23 June) in flight. He had made many ornithological drawings of storks (from captive or preserved specimens) for John Gould’s Birds of Europe (1837) and storks continued to feature in his Nonsense alphabets and stories.

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Sunday 25 June

Perfectly picturesque huttiness of Kokkinomelia. 0ff by 5 a.m. from “Cook and Amelia,” having first drawn some peasants. Astonishing Swiss-like pine-woods! Magnificent view of Gulf of Volo, which we stopped to draw. {sketch ?81B/ ?82} Pines! pines! pines! and a few cattle and goats by Oleander-stream. Came nearer plain. One of our men steals little boy’s jug of wine. About 10 a.m., village of Agra — mulberry tree. Women pretty; they wear dark striped chocolate and red aprons.

Edward Lear, Forest, Sea and Mountains, Kokinamelia 25 June 1848
Private Collection

Arm bad all day. Flea bites additional. At 11 a.m., or earlier, arrived at Kastaniótissa, Mr H. Leeves’ house (a son of a former Maltese Chaplain). Beautiful view. Dog. Woodeny house — garden — piano. Mr. H. L. in Greek dress. Wash, dinner — good Euboean wine. Balcony — sleep. At 5 p.m. we send Janni to see about a boat for crossing to the mainland. General Church writes “rebels out at Lidoriki — danger, etc.” Drew near the village church. C.M.C. and H. Leeves went up the mountain. Little children played with me. Return to house. Janni came back — dreadful stories of affairs in general and about Zeituni [Lamia] in particular. We, however, decide on going to Stylídha. Tea — played and sung.

So far our week’s tour in Euboea from Chalcis had been among scenes remarkable for their natural beauty, especially for the richness of woodland, clothing mountain with pine forest, and lowland with planes, arbutus and oak, but for the most part devoid of historic interest, except at Chalcis and Eretria — all was quiet and there were no signs of danger to the traveller or the occupants of the island. It was indeed later a matter of painful interest that each of the houses where we had been visitors, with letters of introduction, during this tour, became the scene of some violent outrages within the next few years. Brigandage had grown up over the land, through misgovernment, and bands of brigands roamed over the mountain district of Boeotia. Descending on Chalcis in 1855, a gang attacked the house of the Boudouris at Chalcis, carrying off the daughter of the house into the mountain and, though treating her otherwise with respect, holding her to ransom for a large sum, for weeks, until a heavy price was paid. About the same time the house of Mr Noel, at Achmèt Agà was pillaged and his property wantonly damaged by the same villains; and our host at Castaniotissa and his wife, Mr and Mrs Leeves, living in trustful security among their own people, were murdered, for the sake of gain, by a servant of the house, who had been treated with especial trust and kindness.[35]

But now we were about to enter upon new scenes, full of deeply interesting history. Happily, I had with me a pocket volume of Herodotus’ Story of the Great Persian War, which I used from time to time to make a handbook for Lear in his sketches. At Castaniotissa our host’s house and village was on the last slope of the mountain at the north end of Euboea, which looked down upon the plains bordering the Straits of Artemisium, the scene of the naval battles in which the Greeks broke the strength of the Persian Armada which was invading Greece, and the Channel which divided Euboea from Thermopylae; and the scene of undying fame, of the Greek defence on land, was before us. While Lear was sketching in the village on the evening of our arrival, I rode higher up the mountain with our host. There below was the great plain of Oreos (the Histiaeotis), before us the Northern channel, bounded by the great island of Skiathos and the land on each side of the great basin of the Gulf of Volo, ending in the promontory of Trikeri; and the indistinct mass of Pelion in the background. We were on one of the highland points of Euboea, from where the watchers looking out took note of the movements of the Persian fleet during the three days’ tempest which shattered the fleet previous to the fight off the point of shore, the extreme headland of the Euboean Coast, where was the Artemisium, the shrine of the protecting goddess.

Having come so far on our tour without any sense of danger, and in sight of these scenes of historic interest, we decided to cross over, notwithstanding that we should be entering on the frontier land, where we had been warned at Chalcis that the insurgents had broken out, and that the country was not safe for travellers.

The next day we rode over the plain to Oreos, and to the shore, and after some delay, caused by our courier Janni fearing and objecting, we took passage in a half-decked boat at the Scala, for Stylidha, the port of Lamia in the Maliac Gulf and on the opposite shore of the gulf to the mountain above Thermopylae. At first all went well with us, and we sailed down the channel until, at the entrance of the Gulf, the wind dropped and the current and tide kept us out, and we lay outside all night, much to our discomfort, amidst the ballast and packages and cargo and fleas of the hold, which prevented Lear taking advantage of the magnificent scene which opened before us at the entrance of the Gulf under the mountain.

Next morning we drifted into the Gulf and landed on a low shore, at the little port of Stylidha, the “scala” of Lamia, amid a scene of noisy confusion, which made us aware that we had got into a land of’ unrest, the land where the insurgents were about. Men and women were going off in boats heaped up with bedding and household goods, and we were told that there had been a fight between the King’s soldiers and the insurgents, near Lamia, of which the issue was uncertain, and preparations for defence, or flight, were being taken. A ditch of six feet and a barricade of three feet cut off the Marina from the town, and the more timid were taking flight. However, Janni got us ashore and some breakfast at a Khan, and Lear was soon at work sketching the scene on the opposite side of the gulf, and the whole chain of Oeta, from Mt Callidromos, above Thermopylae, to the Trachinian Cliffs, and the mountain range bordering the upper valley of the Spercheius, and over all the conical head of Mt Velukhi above Karpensi, rising up in the distance of nearly 30 miles, at the sources of the Spercheius. This was the first of those sketches in this district, which formed the material from which so many of Lear’s most beautiful pictures have been made in after years, and which have been engraved to illustrate the latest book on the “Great Persian War,”[36] containing the most faithful topographical representations of the scenes in the neighbourhood of Thermopylae. He had constantly before his eyes the lines of the mountain range of Oeta, while in the boat during the previous evening and morning, though unable to sketch; but he lost no time in putting the scene before him on paper from Stylidha, as soon as we got on shore, and afterwards as we rode on to Lamia in the afternoon of that day, filling in the notes of colouring and details of atmosphere and scenery, for after remembrance. His group of drawings in this district of Lamia and the Malian plain bounded by the high and precipitous mountains of Oeta, including the “Trachinian rocks,” and the mountains of “Katavothra” (names of local sections of the great chain), give unique and graphic pictures in illustration of the topography, corresponding with the description of the scenes by Herodotus,[37] and by modern travellers, who vouch for Herodotus as an accurate eye witness of the scenery of the events he has recorded in his book. All were done during the next four days, in the town of Lamia, and in the long ride to Hypata, and on the site of Thermopylae, in great heat and with much fatigue — he was at work all the time, from 3 o’clock in the morning, only resting during the midheat — among the crowd in the market-place, among the soldiers, only intent upon his work, with infinite patience and unflagging good humour and coolness.

That evening we went to Lamia, the frontier town of that district. On the way we had evidence of the disturbed state of the country and reason for the excitement of the people of Stylidha — the road in parts was broken up in attempts at barricade, and a detachment of soldiers met us coming out of Lamia, who, we were told, had driven the insurgents under Velenza and Papacosta[38] over the border into Turkish territory, where they were to be interned by the Turkish authorities. Wild irregulars they looked, bearing out the description of one who comforted us as to our safety, that all the brigands were drafted into either the troops, or the insurgents: “Kleptes all.” The town was in a state of excitement, filled with soldiers strutting and swaggering everywhere. There we rested the next day, Lear, as usual, sketching from morn to eve, in the midst of a crowd, of soldiers chiefly, many of whom he drew — to their delight and exceeding vanity. I paid a visit to the Nomarch, the Prefect of the district, a handsome old gentleman, keeping up some of the style and manner of the benignant Turk, but speaking also French. Seated cross-legged on a divan in the corner of the room, he showed no sign of excitement, and gave easy assurances that all was quiet! — the insurgents were over the border in Turkey! — the King’s soldiers were in the mountains, chiefly at Hypata, the headquarters of the General Mamouri, where he was guarding the frontier — and, as far as he was concerned, all was for the best; all the brigands were with the King’s soldiers, or with the insurgents — we might go where we liked in safety.

Lamia, the frontier town at the head of the Maliac Gulf, was a striking and picturesque place, built on the side and at the foot of a ravine, with a medieval castle in ruins on the crest of the hill, Turkish minarets and some Turkish houses, frequented by multitudes of storks, perched upon the roofs in rows all day, either in silent contemplation, or with a chatter like watchmen’s rattles in chorus for [a] long time together. Soldiers in groups swaggered and skipped about the market place, crowds gathered round Lear as he sketched them in the foreground of his sketches of the distant mountains and the plain and gulf, or made individual sketches of one or another, much to their satisfaction and vanity.

We rode next day from Lamia to Patragik or Hypata (Turkish and Greek names), in a gorge under the highest summits of the range of Oeta, the “Katavothra” mountains, as they are here called. One of Lear’s sketches taken about an hour from Lamia, in the early morning light, describes the solemn purple range, broken by a series of precipitous chasms and sharp cut buttresses, falling down on the dark plain of infinite lines. We crossed the Spercheius, running and swirling swiftly, swollen by rain of the day before, between muddy banks and low shrubs, and entered at last the deep gorge under the peak of the Patragik summit — at first amongst blocks of old masonry, or ruined houses of the most modern time, which had suffered under late skirmishes between the fighters, on the plain and at the entrance of the gorge.

For now we were in the very nest of the rocks which had been the haunt of brigands for 20 days, and in which Velanza and Papacosta’s men had held the frontier in alarm and given occasion to so much trouble of mind at Athens, and now Mamouri, the King’s General, was establishing his headquarters here for the guard of the frontier from Lamia to Karpenisi, of which Mt Oeta was the Greek mountain barrier, with the valley of the Spercheius (the Elladha) at its feet, as the fosse, or moat, of the mountain-fortress. A mountain track led up to the upper village of Hypata, on a ledge under the woods, of the higher summits. We called upon the General and reported ourselves, before we pitched our tent for the mid-day halt, and had dinner in a garden of herbs in the neighbourhood of his quarters. He received us very civilly, assured us “the roads were safe, as all was peace — we could go anywhere, or could have guards, if we were nervous.” While we were there and Lear sketching, Mamouri went down the pass to meet his wife coming from Salona, with an escort of some 20 men, six or seven mounted men among them — a very picturesque sight as they went down the pass. Later in the day, as we were leaving the gorge, we met the party returning. Standing under a plane tree by a wayside fountain at the bottom of the pass, the whole procession passed close to us. First came a led horse, gaily decked, said to have been the horse of the rebel leader Papacosta, then the troop and Mamouri, and his lady on horseback, astride, under an umbrella — a stout ox-eyed dame — and a suite of some ten or twelve mounted men, and 100 or more irregular foot soldiers straggling after. As they stopped to drink at the spring, Lear sketched, putting them in his sketchbook as fast as he could draw {unnumbered watercolour A i?} — all of them looking very surprised, some rather fierce and angry, like half-domesticated wild beasts, a most picturesque sight as they wound up the gorge.

On 30 June Lear was up before dawn and made another sketch of the Katavothra mountains; then we started from Lamia and rode about seven miles across the Southern part of the plain, formed, for the most part, of the land where the sea had retired. We crossed the bridge of Alemanni, where once the Spercheius had ended its course in the waters of the gulf, but now continues for miles lower down through the lands which have been formed by the deposits it has brought down. Here some troopers were riding their horses through the stream running swiftly through muddy banks, “Tiber-like,” as Lear describes them. {sketch 100} Herodotus in hand, I read to Lear his description of the pass, and his story of the great King’s amazement at the audacity of the Spartan handful of men awaiting his mighty host, playing at athletics and combing their hair, and then starting from his throne at seeing his men, whom he had sent to drive them away, themselves driven back with slaughter. Meanwhile Lear was sketching the Trachinian Cliffs, the gorge of the Asopus, and the ravine and plain of Anthela, and the mountain outlines above. Then we rode, in great heat, along the base of the mountain, through the “Western Gate” of Thermopylae, and over the white encrusted plain formed by the deposit of the hot sulphur springs, which cover the track in parts, and run down in streams of deep green water into the plain. At last we pitched our tent for the midday halt at the foot of the hillock (Kolonos) where the Spartans made their last stand. There we saw the great change which the pass has undergone from natural causes in the intermediate time: “The strength of Thermopylae as a pass now depends upon the season of the year, for as the sea, instead of bordering the defile, is now at a distance of three or four miles from it, the difficulty of passing Thermopylæ depends on the dry or marshy state of the plain.”[39]

As the result of that day’s ride, Lear has left a series of most descriptive sketches (a) of the Gorge of the Asopus from the bridge of Alaman and the banks of the Spercheius {sketch 101}; (b) of the mountain, with the side of the ravine, and the hot baths at the foot {sketch 103}; and (c) of the whole range of the mountains receding fold by fold into dim distance above the road at their feet, through the Western and Eastern Gates, looking back from the ascent after the pass, on the ride to Bodonitza {sketch 104}; (d) lastly, the last view in the ascent to Bodonitza, looking upon the gulf and with the chain of Othrys mountains above Stylidha on the opposite shore {sketch 105}.

From Thermopylae we ascended up the mountain side, crossing the path where the Persians had come down behind the Spartan post,[40] to Bodonitza. We made a rest of a day at Bodonitza, in fresh air, on the high ground of a ridge connecting Mt Cnemis with Callidromos, in the simple and welcome accommodation of the priest’s house, who apologised for his poor fare and wine, because of the late exactions of the soldiers.


[35] For the Boudouris abduction and the Noel robbery see Nassau W. Senior, A Journal Kept in Greece and Turkey (1859), pp. 259-60 and p. 340-44; for the murder of the Leeves family see Thomas Wyse, Impressions of Greece (1871), pp. 256-62.

[36] G.B Grundy, The Great Persian War and its Preliminaries: A Study of the Evidence, Literary and Topographical (1901) reproduces ten Lear drawings.

[37]Histories, VII, 198-200.

[38] The European revolutions of 1848 re-ignited conflicts in Greece which had not been completely resolved after the coup of 3 September 1843 and the granting of a new constitution. In the Lamia area insurgents led by Tsamalas Papakostas and Yannis Velentsas were fighting government troops led by Major-General Yannis Mamouris.

[39]Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, 2, 40.

[40]A local man, Ephialtes, betrayed the Greeks by telling the Spartans about the path.

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